You gave me life.
Pushed me into and through this world,
Even when you knew you were done being wife.
You taught me how strong women can be; you broke the mould.
Action rules, it is what you do, not what you say,
You showed me how to be strong,
Building a network of reciprocal friendships. There, come what may,
Standing on your own two feet, even when things seemed wrong.
Good food on the table, despite money being tight
Make do and mend; manners cost nothing; right from wrong,
I’ve been imbued with you, although I prefer vodka to gin with my tonic,
You’ve always been there for me, I hope our mortal order won’t be ironic.
March 2019 finished July 2019
Unspoken knowledge of what I need,
Betwixt a good friend and a Mother –
Ahead on advice that I will eventually heed,
Behind the scenes, anticipating challenges before they occur.
I think of you, thinking of me,
I thank you for being you,
For the foresight of Italy…
I am so blessed to have you Lou.
20th June 2019
Foundation of Life
I’ve hauled my body through rough terrain
To be upon these majestic planks,
Beside others, where many have lain
To be here, alive, present, I give thanks.
A new beginning, not at the bottom, nor the top,
But up amongst the fresh and fertile hills.
A long, long time, climbing to this welcome stop
Nature’s Italian majesty juxtaposition to life’s pills
All brought together before the place animals graze
The platform down in the valley; yet high
The gnarled, knotted wood bleached by life’s rays.
When is exhalation a ‘pranayama’ not a sigh?
We stretch ourselves over and around the props,
Emulating life’s obstacles, searching for learning.
Igniting our tejas from within, as the landscape drops
How much to peel open to discover the calm we’re yearning?
Through the Eye of the Storm
Not with glee or intrepid.
Started focused, calm and steady
Blocked out noise and emotion around me.
Leading others and letting me be,
My choices. My journey.
They said ‘you had no choice’
I prefer to say ‘I chose’. I used my voice,
I chose my attitude; I chose some of the path,
I decided when to make people laugh.
In the dark, tuning into something bigger, deeper and quieter than you,
Your inner voice giving counsel, in the absence of a view.
Listen beneath the raging storm for your guide,
Despite the apparent lack of control; you decide.
At the end is certain death,
Timing unknown for that last breath
But sooner by their faces,
Beating this, another of life’s races.
The search for a force to pull you through,
No direct experience to draw upon, nothing in lieu.
Umbilical cord gives you life,
But where is your thread of survival when this runs rife?
Experiences give you strength and some knowledge of endeavour,
Loved ones around you, people worse off, all woven and twisted together,
Guiding you, empowering you, but not holding you up, not pulling you through.
This has to come from within you.
Trusting yourself to navigate your new norm,
Your voice, your purpose, your choice, pulls you through the storm.
May and June 16th 2019
Fragments come in the early hours
Subconscious thoughts surface into clear concepts;
Newfound clarity, often gone by the time I rouse
Write it down and risk consciousness, recall only excerpts
Shut thoughts and ideas down to stay asleep or return to nod,
Deep calm breathing attempts to keep them at bay
Keeping busy on the daily road is a route well trod.
Go forward, do your thing, get through until again it’s time to lay
When the yielding of the goose down returns,
The light warm weight around me, the calm of dark, the cool of the cotton
The stillness of my outer shell brings time to race, my brain learns,
Time to process and develop during daylight hours is a skill long forgotten.
30th May 2019
I tried to outrun you. And failed.
I ran to get to the other side,
To be cured and have you in my past,
It’s not that easy; my time I must now bide.
Now I run to keep up with you.
I run to stop the feelings flooding in,
Keep moving, doing and updating my kin,
I run to simply show I’m able to.
I don’t want to miss a chance to get ahead,
Out in front, not wasting time,
Not waiting for you to get me; (to my bed),
‘Do today’, keeping busy’, is always the life I’ve led.
‘Rest up’, ‘relax’ they say,
But I want to make the best of each day.
‘Focus on chemo’, they like to write,
A priority no one wants to cite.
I used to actually run to clear my head,
Now I’m manic to fill the day instead,
To stop my head clearing to face the grief,
Leaving everything organised and controlled gives me some relief.
I’ve been running for almost a year,
Keeping going, keeping others going, increasing pace
It’s exhausting and relentless, but I refuse to just wait for you to appear
Passivity, self pity and reflection will not win this race.
I want to find a way to take control,
Not complacent, but proactively keeping you at bay;
Without rushing endlessly through each day.
Accommodating you, without feeling you’ve eaten into my very soul.
9th May 2019
It’s clean and shiny, reflecting and refracting,
The whirling and zapping is exacting.
The hands are kind and apologetically cold,
It’s a sight to behold.
The armour like bolus appears to protect,
Its position is something to perfect.
Looks are deceiving,
It’s here to trick rays into believing.
Zap, Zap, Zap
The friendliness of the people masks the radon reality
Small talk in a nuclear bunker seems like banality.
The two-foot lead wall,
Says it all.
Zap, Zap, Zap
Surgical stitches, dressings, tubes and drains,
Further encumber hauling up my body.
Node clear arms, clamped in reins.
How did radiation become my everyday commodity?
Zap, Zap, Zap
I try to welcome the beam in, searching for bad cells,
Breaking down left over bits of tumour walls.
Imagining it blasting the baddies at the core,
Counter intuitive to endure 15 zaps, yet long for more,
Skin turning pink at last,
Before it becomes raw with each blast.
Zap, Zap, Zap
‘After the rain’ music and lights chosen to soothe,
Keep still, but remember your breath.
Breathe deep to calm, not so deep you move,
Too much stillness and all I can think about is my death.
Zap, Zap, Zap
Tiredness creeps up on me from within,
Outside, the burning soreness from my itchy, weeping skin.
Visualising the crust of cancer cells breaking off with glee
Will this be enough? Or is the cancer still in me?
Back here again brings me sadness,
Family memories flooding in,
Wondering whether I’ll be back as kin,
Wind is whistling, sea is surging, danger at the cliffs
I love the sea; it makes me feel small and insignificant,
Being at the centre of our family’s storm gives attention I do not crave,
These poems are a way to rant
And maybe understand me from the grave…
9th Mar 2019
Burton Bradstock Beach
Lathered up, I discovered you,
The need to check, another thing to do.
I never feared the worst,
Preferring dark humour to outburst.
15thMay confirmed your type,
Much squeezing, sliding and punching the site.
Each appointment, test and scan with the hope of clarity,
In fact presented with enormous situational gravity.
Stepping back; disassociating; directing proceedings:
The only way to cope is through leading,
The unknown and ambiguous ahead.
The prognosis is grim from everything I’ve read.
Walking into the eye of the storm,
Facing into the horror and ordeal become the norm.
Treatment was the only thing making me ill,
Relentless chemicals were a bitter pill.
Knowingly carrying you around for six whole months,
Unknowingly growing you silently and calmly within.
Knowingly poisoning myself in the now,
Unknowingly letting go, as much as a control freak can subconsciously allow.
The time to cut you out could not come quicker,
Your tenacious invasive nature just made this trickier.
You’d hidden deep and scattered,
You defied us all with your size and life,
No longer lurking underneath, your little cells were rife.
Your type defined by what you’re not,
No expert really knows what I’ve got.
The way forward clear only for moments,
Distorted and disfigured by new discoveries and documents.
The outcome is left unsaid, but known.
The route unclear and largely unknown.
The journey time unpredictable.
Propelling myself by embracing the ride and the unthinkable.
Cut away and stored in pathology.
Revealing you has revealed me.
Speaking my truth has become my ‘ology.
In the one sense tolerating less, in the other letting things be.
I choose to fight, but not to beat you,
Fighting to live, but not for life,
Each day is a gift of time in lieu,
Getting paid and getting on with my things to do.
It’s my choice to live, to laugh, to cry, to shout,
Being cheerful, learning as we go, is for me what it’s about.
3rd March 2019
I would not describe myself as a poet. In fact until early March 2019 I had not written a poem since I was required to do so at school or university some 25 years before.
And yet here we are with a small, but growing collection of poems.
I wrote the first poem (Self Discovery) one Sunday whilst laying in bed, pretty low and exhausted following the delayed effects of radiotherapy. Or possibly the cumulative effects of the previous nine months: an advanced cancer diagnosis, 18 weeks chemo, several emergency hospital admissions, 3 operations, 9 weeks of carrying a surgical drain around, 3 weeks of intensive radiotherapy everyday plus a bone infusion. No clear margins and no idea how much cancer was left or where it was.
I guess I was allowed to be tired and a bit fed up.
Up to this point I had focused almost entirely on the physical and practical aspects of a diagnosis, i.e. running around the country going to various appointments to discuss, receive or assess the effects and success treatment. The effects were pretty significant and the success was hard to come by or pin down. In fact almost every appointment brought more bad news, more treatments and more procedures or ops. More uncertainty that is for sure.
It was on this Sunday morning that I found myself alone in bed; alone in the house and alone in my thoughts and fears. I felt that I could not talk to anybody about how I was really feeling. Up until this point I could barely allow my subconscious to think or talk about how I was feeling, even to myself. I had not really given myself much time for internal dialogue – it was just too much, too scary and frankly a distraction from the physical, practical, all consuming job of getting on top of this cancer.
To this day I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to write.
I picked up a pen from my bedside drawer and a scrappy bit of paper (it was actually from a to do list pad – which is definitely my normal modus operandi) and I wrote a poem. It came in 60-90 mins from somewhere deep inside me. From the place that knew this cancer was not gone and this was not the end of my journey. I knew I wasn’t in remission.
It was 3 days later on the Wednesday that I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. The cancer was still on the move.
Since then I have gone back and forth through various experiences on this journey and taken the time to examine how I felt and what I thought.
I have found writing and reading the poetry an essential part of acknowledging the feelings and experiences I have lived through. A way to accept and discharge the feelings.
I hope they give you an idea of what it is like to have cancer and to endure its often barbaric treatment. I won’t pretend that they are easy reading but it is important that we share how you deal with cancer so we acknowledge its challenges for the many people who are directly or indirectly effected by this insidious disease.
This is very much my journey and my experience. We are all unique. Each cancer is unique and how we respond to treatment is very personal.
If someone you know or love is going through this ask them about their experience. And listen to what they say and how they say it. It will make a difference.
Poems to Date